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AFX + CYLOB - Birmingham Custard Factory - 21 July 2001   Print  E-mail 
Written by Graham Reed  
Saturday, 08 May 2004

"The city is a work of art" proclaims the slogan above the Stage/DJ booth in this factory/Swimming pool/venue. Where 6 months before there was a pond, now it's a dance floor for all sorts of club culture - an odd amalgamation of hip-hoppers, dreadlocked techno- crusties, jazzheads and people in WWI gas masks.......

 

Tonight is the first Birthday bash of Earko, and the main attraction is a rare appearance by otherwise reclusive Richard James, Aphex Twin.

Before that comes Rephlex artist Cylob, dropping a set that's simultaneously old skool, retro and somehow archaicly up to date. Piano runs stab out of nowhere, lifted from cheesy Italian house classics, before ambient electronica wafts in. Eclectic, challenging, with the dry ice on the max, Cylob seems to do anything except 4 to the floor dance floor fillers. "Déjà vu" is just what you don't get when there's no guarantee you'll be listening to the same genre, in 5 seconds time. That's explains the harsh analogue electronica that merges into smooth synthpop, the Ragga.Ska set that goes into the old rave classic "Raving I'm Raving", and the most well received record of the set - Kraftwerk's "Numbers" with Whitney Houstons "I Wanna Dance with somebody" vocals on the top. It's oddly out of place, hypnotic and yet compelling- like the entire of Cylobs set.

Richard D James comes on, unannounced True to his anarchic form, anything might happen in the next two hours. And it often does. Phat pounding beats emerge form nowhere, tribal drumming rhythms emerge. And then - he starts singing. Its "Koochy", and then "Tenement Flow" being rapped, over the 80's old school funk. It's an odd set, one of which plays with peoples expectations, and whilst not the white noise experimentation of before - there's no sign of sandpaper or food mixers, both of which he's DJ'd with before - it ain't Paul Oakenfold, that's for sure. Breakbeats and drum n' bass fade in and out of the mix, the sound stops randomly, and canned applause comes out of the PA. Squelching acid lines merge into white noise and back again. Syncopated beats and haunting ambient melodies. If it sounds eclectic, it is, but it's just the right side of self-indulgent to not piss off the capacity crowd, as AFX goes to more extremes throughout the night. The finale as such comprises of Ganja Kru's 1996 drum n bass hit "Super Sharp Shooter" - cue the biggest cheer of all night, before chopping the bassline in half and distorting it to fuck, before a cut up drum pattern - distorted to the point of white noise- takes over. Then he plays these loops backwards, and the same 2 second loop is repeated for minutes on end - not so much drum n' bass as drill n' bass. It's at that point that the gabba records kick in, insane metal guitars and 200bpm beats.

And like the most challenging AFX materials, it entertains (in much the same way as say, a car crash) and subverts. On the basis of tonight, Aphex's eclectism shines though -but "is it art?", as the old maxim goes. It may not be beautiful, it may not be what people expected, but it was something else. It wasn't so much a case of "entertain and subvert" as "educate and subvert"; and in a world of faceless Ibiza hits and top 40 production line pap, that's exactly what's needed, whether the crowd want it or not. They may want to drop an E and be entertained - but that's not what they got.

They got much much more.

 

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